Wednesday, 30 December 2015


Since reports of the returning Pacific Diver off Newlyn started up again in November, I had been harbouring (no pun intended) thoughts of another trip to Cornwall to look for it, having first seen this bird back in 2011. James Lowen had hatched a plan to hook up with another Norfolk based birder, Nick Watmough, meeting up with Rob Williams in Somerset en route to Cornwall. Others had pulled out so there was room in the car for me, and we met on Monday morning for the onward trek to Penzance in the Exeter suburbs before the townsfolk had stirred.
Great Northern Diver, Newlyn Harbour
Great Northern Diver, Newlyn Harbour
I had photographed the Pacific Diver very poorly in 2011, but seeing Ben Porter's photos from earlier this year I was hopeful that I might improve on my earlier efforts. The forecast was for high winds in Penzance but the journey down didn't seem too bad so I was optimistic that the sea state wouldn't make viewing conditions too difficult. I was about to voice this thought as we rounded the high wall of Penzance Harbour when a wave broke on the seawall and doused the car in heavy salt spray. Hmm, not ideal for finding divers, let alone one with only subtle differences from the more familiar Black-throated.

Great Northern Diver, Carnsew Pool

Great Northern Diver, Carnsew Pool
I have written before about the different dietary requirements which birders exhibit on a long day out. James is definitely a feeder, and the itinerary seemed to revolve around favoured eateries, with a bit of birding thrown in to break up our stately progress between them. A strategy I was not entirely unhappy with, as while not a big eater, early starts do bring out the glutton in me and require a regular intake of carbs. So with the benefit of a 'healthy' breakfast pre-dawn, we just had to while away a few hours birding until the pasty shops opened.
Pacific Diver - slightly smaller than Black-throated Diver - here showing a hint of a chinstrap
A white 'thigh' patch would be visible on Black-throated Diver
We headed first for Newlyn, and the first unidentified divers we saw through wind-battered scopes did nothing to dispel the sense that this wasn't going to be easy. Eventually, however, we got our eye in, found a reasonably sheltered viewpoint and with an improvement in the light were soon picking out Great Northern, Red-throated and Black-throated Divers in the heavy swell of St Mounts Bay.
Even in these distant shots a rounded head profile and small, spiky bill can be seen
The 237th species I have photographed in Britain in 2015
Making our way eastwards back to the Jubilee Pool, there was still no sign of our main target, and numbers of other divers also seemed to have tailed off, so we headed back west to the far side of Newlyn in the hope of improving our prospects. This proved an inspired move as after an extended period of scanning, during which an unseasonal Storm Petrel and a Great Skua were seen, Rob eventually pinned down the Pacific Diver. Fortunately it spent several minutes continuously on the surface, swimming towards us and roll-preening so everyone could get onto it. With a little imagination (and a 60x zoom), a chinstrap could be made out and, just as importantly, the white flank patch of Black-throated Diver was notable by its absence.
This fishing fleet in Newlyn Harbour
St Michael's Mount through the entrance of Newlyn Harbour
With four species of diver seen by lunchtime, there was time to potter around Cornwall in search of more photogenic fowl. A Great Northern Diver in the calm waters of Newlyn Harbour didn't quite play ball, but another in Carnsew Pool was more accommodating. We stumbled across this having taken a wrong turn into a new Asda (because, let's face it, another mega-supermarket is just what west Cornwall needs). We were, of course, searching for pastry, but the Diver offered some consolation. The onset of squally showers increased the urgency of finding a pasty shop, from whence we headed back up the A30 for a quick stop at Dozmary Pool and another returning rarity, a Lesser Scaup. Finding this remote spot completely devoid of a Greggs, we quickly photographed the Lesser Scaup and returned to the A30 to head home.
Drake Lesser Scaup at Dozmary Pool
#238 for the photo yearlist
So a pretty good day all told, with erudite company, fine dining and the added bonus of not having to drive all the way.
(From top to bottom: me, James, Rob. 'On your bellies for a loon' tweets Nick. 'But only the middle loon is showing flank patches' replies Rob. Photo copyright Nick Watmough. Thanks to all three for a great day.)

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